1997 was full of many “where were you when?” moments. From the death of the UK’s Princess Diana, to the Heaven’s Gate cult mass suicide. From Dolly the sheep being cloned, to the first publication of Harry Potter. For Australians, the shocking death of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence at the end of November was one of those such moments. It was towards the end of my HSC exams and I remember sitting at home watching the live telecast of his funeral at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. For many, we cannot hear “Never Tear Us Apart” without picturing Michael’s flower-strewn coffin being carried out of the Cathedral by his bandmates and younger brother, Rhett to their classic hit.
Having captured the interest of the nation with the highs of the band’s success (winning its timeslot last Sunday), it was time to embark on the lows. This was made apparent from the onset. Whereas the first part opened with their triumphant concert at Wembley Stadium, the second part starts in 1997 with Hutchence (Luke Arnold) alone in his hotel room on what we can assume is the night of his death.
The same issues I had with the first part were, for the most part, still present in the conclusion. The individual events were largely skimmed over and we were just presented with a series of snapshots that documented the band’s travels from the early 1990s through till Hutchence’s death. A lot was hinted at, such as the issues with the British paparazzi during his relationship with Paula Yates (Georgina Haig), the fallout from his bruised brain the result of a fall in Denmark, and how INXS suffered from the classic Australian tall poppy syndrome, but these issues were never really fully fleshed out and explored as fully as they could have been.
What I was pleased to see was the character development and fleshing out of the band members, which was sorely lacking in the first part. This was certainly evident with Andrew Farriss (Andrew Ryan), Kirk Pengilly (Alex Williams) and to some extent Garry Gary Beers (Hugh Sheridan). We even got to see a flashback to when Andrew brought Michael home and introduced him to his brothers and they start jamming, bringing Pengilly and Beers to the Farris house and the “formation” of the band – a scene that really should have been placed early on in the first part. However, what was really pleasing was that we got to see the real reason we tuned in to this miniseries – the person behind the rock god Michael Hutchence persona.
The second part devoted much more time and effort put into looking at how the fame and Michael’s lifestyle affected himself, the band and those close to him. It definitely still skimmed over the issues, especially his past relationships with Kylie Minogue (Samantha Jade) and Helena Christensen (Mallory Jansen). This certainly was surprising, particularly the lack of Minogue storyline as it was heavily touted in the series’ promos and caused quite a sensation in Australia at the time with Hutchence having been quoted as saying that one of his favourite hobbies was “corrupting Kylie”. But having said that, I was impressed at the time taken to explore his relationship with Paula Yates and their issues with her ex-husband, Sir Bob Geldof. However, his death was a constant shadow over the whole part with scenes from that evening appearing throughout.
I was interested to see how they were going to deal with this as the events of his last evening have been well documented and reported on in Australia, often quite sensationally. The drug use (cocaine, prescription drugs, alcohol), his various phone calls throughout the evening (to Yates, Pengilly, Geldof and Michelle Bennett – Jane Harber), the visit from ex-girlfriend Kym Wilson (Kylie Gulliver) and her current boyfriend (James O’Halloran) as well as Bennett’s attempt to see him and how he died. While all these were covered, minus his actual death, it was done much like the rest of the series; simplistic, presenting the facts/events and then moving on.
The most powerful moments of the entire series were the last 5-10 minutes with the fallout of Hutchence’s death. Even though you know this is how the series will end, seeing the band at rehearsal awaiting Hutchence’s arrival, watch the news report break into the cricket coverage to announce his death still hit home hard (tissues were definitely needed). Having Andrew Farriss start up an acoustic version of “Don’t Change” (whether accurate or not) with the various band members reacting worked well. In his own review of the second part for the Daily Telegraph, Pengilly comments that it was “obviously a devastating time” for the band and that it “took a while for the shock to lift, and years to digest it”, but that “the show depicts it well, tastefully and powerfully”.
As I said at the beginning, Hutchence’s funeral was telecast live in Australia and I anticipated that the series would end with scenes from that. However, what we got was incredibly moving, heartbreaking and utterly fitting. The band is at some function, which is winding down. Andrew is sitting alone at the piano just playing a melody. Hutchence comes up to him and sits down on the piano stool next to him. They start playing “Never Tear Us Apart” and we cut to the real Hutchence and the band performing at the 1991 Wembley gig along with home movies of the band.
Though far from the perfect miniseries and once the emotion of the ending fades, it leaves you wanting more, it did provide a nice simplistic snapshot into one of Australia’s biggest rock bands and worldwide success story.
INXS: Never Tear Us Apart is now available on DVD and Blu-ray in Australia.
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